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Michael Essien urges Liberians to rise against Polio

While on a learning visit here, former Ghanaian soccer star Michael Essien has called on the Government of Liberia and political leaders to join the fight to eradicate polio nationwide.

The former Ghanaian celebrated football star is on a learning visit in Liberia with his wife, Akosua Puni Essien, to advocate for polio eradication.

The Gates Foundation and UNICEF, in coordination with the Government of Liberia, have organized the Essiens’ visit.

It aims to support the Liberian government’s ongoing efforts to eradicate polio and increase child immunization, coinciding with the synchronized polio campaign across Liberia and six West African countries.  

As part of the visit, Essien attended a major press conference on Tuesday, June 4, 2024, at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports in the City of Paynesville.

The media engagement with the international football star focused on Polio Eradication in Liberia and ongoing efforts geared towards this fight.

Addressing a team of local and international journalists, Ambassador Essien stressed that the participation of the Liberian government and all political leaders in the fight against polio disease across the country is key, as it plays a major role in eradicating the disease.

He noted that the consideration of this call by major government policymakers, including parents, political actors, and institutions, will help Liberian children stay alive and healthy.

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“The national government and all politicians need to participate in this fight. UNICEF is just an institution, and I am an individual who is supporting this fight, but if the relevant authorities do not demonstrate the political will, we will be fighting zero battle,” Essien emphasized.

The legendary footballer, who also played in the English and Spanish Premium leagues, urged key policy actors to make the necessary sacrifices by becoming more engaged with the process and motivating the kids to get vaccinated.

“The next time when I come here [Liberia], I would love to see zero polio cases because we want to make sure that we kick out this very deadly disease.”

At the same time, the star expressed delight at his pick by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as its Goodwill Ambassador in the fight against polio in Liberia and Africa.

He vouched his full support for the “End Polio Campaign” in Liberia and expressed optimism that the initiative’s goal would be achieved collaboratively.

He encouraged all families or parents of children affected by polio disease in Liberia and across Africa to ensure their kids are vaccinated, underscoring the significance of the polio vaccination.

“When I was little, I got vaccinated, and I can assure them it is very safe, and it is very good to get it done,” he noted.

During their visit, the Essiens engaged in a learning trip focused on Liberia’s immunization and polio eradication efforts, understanding the vaccine infrastructure, and listening to personal stories from families and children receiving vaccines and the healthcare workers administering them.

They also participated in a friendly football game with young athletes in Liberia on the SKD playing pitch.

Madam Akosua Puni Essien, the soccer star’s wife, expressed her enthusiasm for the eradication efforts in Liberia, stating, “It is inspiring to see the coordinated efforts in Liberia to ensure every child receives vaccination to protect them from the polio virus.”

“I urge all parents and caregivers to ensure that children under the age of five receive their vaccines – the polio vaccine is free, safe, and crucial for protecting our children from this devastating disease,” she noted.

UNICEF Representative in Liberia, Andy Brooks said the selection of Michael Essein was in line with the UN body’s strategies aimed at finding potential individuals with the brand recognition to adequately spread its message to targeted areas in the African region.

He noted that the major message of the “End Polio Campaign” is to get immunized and protected so as to avoid polio, adding that Essien’s reception so far gave him a lot of confidence in his ability to deliver the message.

“We hope to achieve more awareness and minimum resistance; you all know that there is resistance to vaccination, so you can allow people to believe that this is going to protect their kids, and it is 100 percent protected,” the foreign diplomat stressed.

He added, “The visit of Michael and Akosua Essien underscores the power of partnership in our fight against polio. Their presence boosts confidence in vaccination and highlights our shared commitment to a polio-free future for every child in West and Central Africa. Together, we can make polio history,” said Andy Brooks, UNICEF Representative in Liberia.

In furtherance, the UNICEF Liberia Representative disclosed that the Day of the African Child will be celebrated on Sunday, June 16, 2024, with a series of activities from the 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and especially the 14th; UNICEF hopes to bring together all government ministers, international partners, and children to put a spotlight on the situation of children in Liberia.

He named teenage pregnancy, low enrollment of kids in school, and the number of children’s deaths, whether increasing or decreasing, as major challenges that need the urgent attention of the national government, development partners, and other actors in the interest of the children.

In remarks, Cllr. Jeror Cole Bangalu termed football star Michael Essien’s presence in Liberia a boost for the country and a major message in the fight to eradicate polio in Liberia.

“He is an icon, and everyone knows that. To see him leading this initiative along with UNICEF sends many messages,” the Minister said.

He also commits the Liberian government’s support to the campaign, adding that Essien, whom he said is more than a humanitarian, brings the Liberian citizens and the government joy.

According to him, the government, through the Ministry of Health, already has a robust plan for this initiative. He noted that Mr. Essien’s presence in Liberia is the goodwill of UNICEF aimed at tackling polio in the country.

Also speaking, Mr. Adolphus Clark, Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Manager at the Ministry of Health, expressed his optimism about the campaign, stating, “Our collective efforts have brought us closer than ever to a polio-free Liberia.”

He said with the support of Michael and Akosua Essien and the country’s global partners, the people and government of Liberia are renewing their commitment to ensure that every child is protected from this preventable disease.

Polio Eradication Update in Liberia

Liberia reported two variant polio type 2 detections from environmental sampling in 2023 and 6 so far in 2024.

This comes after a period of almost two years without any detection of variant polio type 2 in Liberia.

As a result, Liberia has been prioritized for 2 rounds of nationwide nOPV2 campaigns, with the first round implemented on May 10, 2024, synchronized with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire, and the second round scheduled to begin today, June 7, 2024. Press release

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